Barclay Boys

Whether you remember the old Barclay or not, Richard Jeffery takes you back to the days where standing during the game and getting thrown about was the Norm. Basically, what the South Stand is like nowadays.

Barclay Boys, we are here, whoah, whoah. Barclay Boys, we are here, shag your women and drink your beer. Na-na-na-na-na-na-na-na-na Barclay Boys are big and strong.

That’s how the old song went. Not very PC eh? But then the old Barclay wasn’t. Not the centre pen anyway, and it wasn’t all boys either.

For those that can’t remember it, and I feel sorry for you that you’ll never get to experience it, let me try and convey what it was like.

The old Barclay had four sections or pens. The fact they were called pens, probably tells you a lot about how football fans were thought of and treated back then.

As you looked from the River End it was laid out thus. To the left nearest to the Main/City Stand was the largest, and most open section, it was home fans only. To the far right was the usual away fans section, butted up against the South stand. Next to that was the overflow away fans section, this was only used for big games, with a large contingent of away fans in attendance. Ipswich, Man Utd, Liverpool, Arsenal, late round cup ties (remember them?) etc. To the left of that, smack bang behind the goal was the middle pen. Home fans only. 

You graduated to the middle pen of the Barclay, or at least that’s how it felt. You served your apprenticeship standing in the river end when you were a young kid and went with your Dad. Viewing the heaving, pulsating mass of the Barclay and hearing the singing from afar, your curiosity spiked.

Then when you were old enough to go on your own with your mates, you ventured to stand in that largest pen in the Barclay next to the Main/City Stand, closer now to the real excitement, though it was still a bit of a mystery. Then once you’d plucked up the courage, you took your first walk up those concrete steps slashed into the grassy bank, that bank being the last vestige of how Carrow Road was originally built, through that doorway at the back and you were there.

You were a Barclay Boy (or girl).

It engendered a real feeling of pride and partisanship, you felt part of something unique and special. We all feel a sense of belonging when we’re at Carrow Road, but this was more intense. This translated into more singing and a better atmosphere than you’ll ever experience in a modern all-seater stadium.

Was it dangerous? A little, yes though it didn’t feel it at the time.

When a goal was scored you’d often be off your feet carried forwards in a surge. If you’d not planned your location very well you could end up with the weight of a large number of people crushing you against the crush barriers until everyone shoved their way back to where they started. When the overflow away pen was in use there was the added danger of being hit by a thrown coin or two that made it through the fences between us. Sometimes the away fans would climb up the fence and spit across as well. Unpleasant stuff, but the games when that pen was in use were the best ones, despite all that.

I remember one evening game against Liverpool when a young lad was doing just that, he’d climbed up the fence and was showering us in verbal and gesticulatory abuse and spit. A member of Norfolk Constabulary asked him nicely to come down, the young man politely declined, the policeman repeated his request, met again with a polite refusal, so with a shrug of his shoulders, the officer pulled out his truncheon. A quick rap across the Achilles followed and our friend was on the floor and had to be assisted out of the back of the stadium by the officer and his colleague.

In those days, the police always wore the old fashioned pointed helmets. They’d patrol the edges of the crowd only venturing in, in pairs, when they had to deal with a miscreant. This would often lead to the second in line Bobby having his helmet knocked off which would then be tossed about among the crowd, in a fairly friendly manner. They always got them back, no harm done.

Then at half-time you’d make your way back down the steps to avail yourself of the facilities. You could look over the fence to the away fans as you walked down the steps and give them a hand signal or two, they’d reply in kind and a few of them would start banging on the gate between the two areas, threateningly. This was also returned in kind, until the just a man in jackets intervened.  The facilities were all in the open air, including the men’s toilets which were just a trough in the ground behind a single skin brick wall. I can’t actually remember there being a sit down cludgie. Maybe there was. I do remember the water burgers though, the catering has come on a great deal since then.  Then back up the steps for the second half, to try and get your spot back if you could.

Was it fun?

Oh yes. The chanting, the jumping about, the camaraderie it was amazing. In the warmer months, you’d come out sweating and out of breath, but exhilarated and bounce down the street still on a high.

It was great, sure we were caged in like animals, and some people behaved in kind, but some of my formative and most memorable times as a Norwich fan happened in that middle pen.

Then came the dark day of the Hillsborough disaster. Thankfully, finally, the true version of events, the one we knew to be true all along, has come out. Though some still choose to deny them for some reason.

Was standing to blame for Hillsborough? No. It was negligent/criminal policing and the subsequent lack of crowd control measures for supporters coming into the ground. This was then aggravated by inaction from the police until it was tragically too late. Was standing a major factor in the disaster? Yes, it was. The fact is in a modern all-seater stadium, it couldn’t have happened. The state of football stadiums up and down the land, the fact we were caged in and the way football fans were treated then was also a major factor.

For that reason, I understand the reluctance of many to look at standing in top level football grounds again, it’s particularly understandable that the Hillsborough families are against it.

However, I do feel genuinely sorry for my kids that they’ll never experience the full on Barclay experience as I did. It was wonderful, intoxicating even. But there is a chance they can experience the nearest thing to it. Safe standing.

Safe standing is just what it says it is. It’s a fairly dry subject and has been covered in detail elsewhere so I won’t go into the nuts and bolts of it. Suffice to say, it works well in Germany and the Bundesliga is renowned for its fan experience, look at the Yellow Wall all jumping in unison at Dortmund and tell me you wouldn’t want to be a part of that.

You wouldn't have the surges we had then due to the rails, and football supporters are different beasts (and a different demographic) to what they were then, so those dangers are gone.

It would mean that those who wished to congregate together and sing/bounce/tifo could do so again, and those that don’t could sit out of the way, rather than dilute the atmosphere which is what happens currently. 

I am certain that it would improve the atmosphere at Carrow Road, and elsewhere and yet still result in a much safer and more pleasant environment than in the old days.

So that’s what I hope happens. I think it will one day. But, when it does, for better or worse you’ll never have what we had.

All together. Whoah, whoah.